Frankfurt am Main (FFM) is a strange city, one seemingly split between people who are permanent residents and people who are there only as a part of the financial industry which accounts for the city’s big business reputation. Most importantly I received confirmation that I will actually get a visa to go to the US, but being done with that before 10a.m. I could spend time walking around a lot of FFM, from my hotel in the Nordend-West (seemingly in the North East of the city!) to the Hauptbahnhof area and then back up Kaiserstrasse and onto Zeil, the main shopping area.
Around the West and the hotel is fairly suburban, neither especially rich nor poor. Aside from a Technische Fachhochschule the people there seemed predominantly Turkish (something I wouldn’t have thought of FFM). The side streets I took to get from there to the centre were equally suburban, although overground U-Bahn tracks added to the odd feeling (much like overground trains in Cologne). Skyscrapers (as in the image here), more businessmen (in their suits and their ties – watching too much Lee & Herring) and shiny cloud reflections became more commonplace, with Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Allianz and Commerzbank among others making it seem like a parade of meaningless corporate symbols for those whose capitalist interests aren’t limited to Starbucks and McDonalds.
But remove the banking buildings and the streets are more like a UK city with an average level of grubbiness, or like the worse parts of Cologne or Düsseldorf. At lunch time the streets filled with businessmen and obviously poorer local families, mostly Turkish but some German too.
“This ain’t no holiday, oh no this ain’t no vacation. This is your chance to pay the great casino foundation,” sings Martin Sexton into my ears. Well as my hotel’s website says, this is “die amerikanischte Stadt Deutschlands“. This would be sad if it were solely the case due to the financial infrastructure which nonetheless doesn’t seem to benefit the city around it. Who am I to complain? I went to Starbucks at lunch.
Zeil, the main shopping area, reminded me of its counterpart in Cologne, Schildergasse (image below), only not so nice or so big. I imagine if you spent a long time here there would be as little to do as there was in Cologne after a couple of months. It’s not designed as a city for long-term living, or at least the centre of FFM isn’t; though the suburbs seemed dismal by comparison. Many teenagers were simply sat along Zeil drinking McDonalds’ cokes or skateboarding.
Around the Hauptbahnhof is the very dull and unappealing red light district – Spielhallen, sex shops, drunk people and one woman stood in the middle of the street remaining just about upright but with her head and shoulders dangling as though she were trying not to fall asleep and subsequently fall over. The tramps begging outside Plus added to the warmth of the scene. Again this is reminiscent of Düsseldorf; if only you could make everything smaller, much prettier and older, you’d almost have Bonn.
In a park between the Alte Oper – a nice area (see the picture below) with some sort of ‘Straßenfest’ going on – there was a man performing CPR on a collapsed homeless person, whose homeless friend had commandeered the cellphone of a passing businessman (in his suit and tie… etc) from which to call an ambulance (I heard a large number of emergency services sirens to say I was there less than 48 hours). Amid collapsed tramps, CPR and bankers I thought that this park, with skyscrapers around it and uninterested people having lunch, could almost pass for the more financial parts of London. But I think this is a false similarity.
Heading back to the Hbf. after taking some photos I thought: “Ah, German central stations. Beacons of melting-pot insanity with just enough of a veneer of conformity”. I continue to orient myself listening to Martin Sexton: “Does Satan wear a suit and tie, does he work at the Dairy Queen?/ Does he listen to rock ‘n’ roll, does he feed the mean/ Streak in all of us, all us saints on Earth?/ Hypnotised and over-advertised till we’re numb at birth“.
Later I see a woman jump down onto the tracks a few minutes before my train arrives. Security apprehends her and she seems to be unfazed. Surreal.
N.B. Photos will follow, as soon as I have enough money to develop them. And feel free to click on the large number of links in order to make the post more interesting.